Bye Oirish pubs, G'day Oz bars

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Forget the creamy pint of porter served by a red-headed colleen. The Irish theme pub is sliding out of fashion, and being replaced as the trendiest place in town by the Australian bar - complete with stuffed Koalas, surf boards and Antipodean lager.

Brewers who have opened hundreds of kitsch Irish pubs across Britain in the past five years now say that they have reached saturation point. The search has been on for some time for an alternative, and two big chains have opted for Australia as an inspiration.

They believe young people in particular are drawn to Australian culture, with its emphasis on sport, beer, barbecues and a laid-back approach to life. At Bar Oz, for instance, in London's Notting Hill, the pub's slogan is "No worries, mate".

The west London venue is the first of a series of a nationwide Bar Oz chain, in which Scottish and Newcastle is investing pounds 5m.The company is planning to open up to 40 across Britain by the time of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when they expect all things Australian to be the height of fashion.

Bar Oz will be as much a pastiche of an Australian bar as the Waxy O'Connors and Scruffy Murphys are of an Irish pub. The wooden bar, with corrugated roof, is surrounded by bric-a-brac such as surf boards, big game fish and crocodiles. Food includes meat pies as well as barbecues, but no kangaroo meat - yet.

But will Australian bars succeed with the very customers which all the breweries are trying to attract: women? Regent Inns, which is also developing a chain of Australian bars, thinks so, despite the macho mix of beer, barbies and televised Australian football and rugby. Dana Bezzant, herself an Australian and the company spokeswoman, is disarmingly frank. "Bars today are pick-up joints for singles. Where better for a girl to find her Crocodile Dundee than in an Aussie bar?"

Pubs were once the domain of men seeking escape from hearth and home, but today the gloomy saloons and public bars are gone. Themed pubs, suggesting a lifestyle to which young adults either aspire or find appealing as nostalgia, are on every high street.

The attempt to make pubs more attractive to women has made breweries rethink what a bar should be like. "The key things a woman wants from a pub is for it to be safe, not dark and offering plenty of choice of food and drinks," said Martin Robertson, marketing director of Scottish and Newcastle.

Just how important women are as a growth market is highlighted in a new MORI poll, carried out on behalf of the British Licensed Retailers Association, to be published this week. Three in four women aged 18-34 say they drink in a pub at least once a fortnight and one in three do so at least once a week. This is only slightly fewer than men, although much less than younger men, just over half of whom go to pubs at least once a week.